A wonderful tool for developing your voice is the messa di voce. Italian for “placing the voice,” this technique involves sustaining a pitch with a gradual crescendo (getting louder) and decrescendo (getting softer). This is a great exercise for warming up, increasing your range, increasing your dynamic power, and increasing your control. The thing to remember is that you want to make the crescendo and decrescendo as smooth as possible.
Many times, I’ll use the technique if there is a particular note in a phrase that I’m having trouble with. This is often because of a challenging vowel sound on the pitch. Try it yourself. First, sing through the phrase using a lip trill (check out my post on the lip trill). Then do it again, except this time pause on the trouble spot and add the messa di voce. Feel the amount of support you’ll need to pull it off. Now sing it through with the words this time, pausing at the trouble spot and holding the respective vowel. Try to keep the vowel consistent as you crescendo and decrescendo. It can take a couple times through before you find the right feel (a lot of times we call this feeling the placement – it can feel like the sound is physically coming from different locations in your vocal apparatus).
When I use the messa di voce in my warm-up regimen, I add it to the top of scales as I sing through them. This can greatly increase your comfort in your upper register. I will also use it at the breaks in my voice (a break is what we call the spot where the voice transitions from one register to the next – e.g. the spot between your regular voice and falsetto or between your chest voice and head voice). The messa di voce can help smooth out those breaks more quickly.
Practicing this technique, you will notice not only an increase in your dynamic range, but an increase of control at the extremes – the very louds and the very softs. Control is what we want to cultivate as we develop the voice, and the messa di voce is possibly the best exercise for working on it.
Just as versatile as the lip trill, the messa di voce is an essential part of any vocalist’s toolkit. Use it often.